It’s been more than fifteen years since the Mortal Kombat movie indelibly imprinted its theme song into a generation of brains. Now the original movie and its Annihilation sequel both are on Blu-ray, thanks to brand new releases from Warner Bros.
Originally released in 1992, the first Mortal Kombat video game ushered gamers into a new era of fighting games and controversy. From the start, Mortal Kombat was a far more brutal game that most anything parents had seen before. The violence was extreme but cartoonish, lending itself to all manner of popularity and protest. The outcry and the fandom it helped fuel would go on to build one of the most popular gaming universes of all time. By the time the Mortal Kombat movie landed in 1995, the series was three games deep into the franchise.
The Mortal Kombat games always have run with a sort of loose but detailed background fiction about human fighters being summoned into a martial arts battle with the fate of the Earth in the balance. Characters like Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Scorpion, and Sub-Zero have become staples of the fighting genre. Taking the familiar characters and elements that made the game popular, Paul W.S. Anderson directed the first movie adaptation with a plot based mostly on the story from the first game.
Christopher Lambert already was a geek icon for Highlander by the time he starred as Raiden in Mortal Kombat. An immensely powerful god and the secret defender of Earth, Raiden selects three human champions to represent their planet in Mortal Kombat, an interdimensional fighting competition that pits the best of each world against each other. Earth sits in a tenuous position, as it has lost the previous nine Mortal Kombats to the Outworld realm. A tenth loss will open Earthrealm to an invasion by the villainous Shao Kahn. It is then up to Shaolin Liu Kang, soldier Sonya Blade, and action movie star Johnny Cage to pull off an unlikely victory in order to save humankind.
The concept and the movie itself are over the top in story, acting, music, and especially the special effects. It all combines into a movie that holds a special place for fans because of its kitschy and silly but earnest attempt to bring the Mortal Kombat craziness to the big screen. And, you know, it largely works. Just as it’s impossible to make it through a Mortal Kombat gaming session without at least smirking at some of the astoundingly insane fighting moves and fatalities, it’s a challenge to watch the movie without giving the effort a smile. Sure, the rubber masks and fighting effects are dated by any standards, but that’s part of the appeal of this adaptation.
Sadly, the 1997 sequel movie just couldn’t pull off the charm for a second time. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation brought on first time director John R. Leonetti to continue the saga, but most of the magic from Anderson’s movie isn’t there. Annihilation gives a lot of nods to game fans with the inclusions of more characters and concepts (animalities, anyone?) from the games, but it doesn’t assemble them in a fun, coherent, and competent narrative. Instead, it piles the components together in a heap of far too many fighters and strikes a match to the overall franchise. As enjoyable both then and now as the first Mortal Kombat movie is, Annihilation is most definitely a skipper.
Somewhat matching their comparative overall qualities, the first Mortal Kombat movie generally looks and sounds better on Blu-ray than its sequel does. Both movies have some variable issues with scenes featuring different lighting levels and action, but it all is a big step up from the previous DVD releases. If you’re a fan of the movies, Blu-ray is the way to watch them. Sadly, there’s not much in the way of Blu-ray bonus features for either film. The first Mortal Kombat includes the Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins animated tie-in, but it’s really good only for a laugh and perhaps some nostalgia. The only other features of note are trailers for the new Mortal Kombat 2011 video game and a code included with each movie to unlock a new costume for a character in the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
If you’re already a Mortal Kombat fan, chances good are that you’ve seen one or both of these movies sometime in the past decade. Their arrival on Blu-ray is part of the revival of an awesome franchise that is now branching out into a web series, following its new video game reboot. Both movies released on Blu-ray on April 19, 2011.